Friday, August 18, 2017

One win, one loss, lots to talk about

Glen Perkins, in the first of Thursday's games, became the 32nd player to pitch for the Twins this year. Simply getting back onto a major league mound after essentially having his shoulder reconstructed is quite an accomplishment.

That said, his outing wasn't good. He hit two batters, walked another, threw more balls than strikes, got just one out.

He hit 93 at least once, but he didn't have command. He says he'll be better in future outings. We'll see. I'm pleased he's back; now I want to see him be effective enough to justify a role.

---

Aaron Slegers, in the second game, became pitcher 33. He was pretty impressive in his big league debut: 6.1 innings, two hits, two walks, three strikeouts. Paul Molitor pulled him after just 82 pitches, which struck me as a prematurely quick hook.

Slegers is being sent back to Rochester, as he was the 26th man for the doubleheader, the Twins are in the midst of a staff-straining seven-games-in-five-days stretch and he can't help further with that, and, well, numbers, man.  (Despite what Dick Bremer kept saying during the telecast, my understanding of the rules is that he could remain and somebody else removed from the 25-man roster, but all the somebodies who could be sent down in his stead might help in the next five days.)

But it's really difficult to concoct a baseball rationale for keeping Kyle Gibson in the rotation and Slegers in the minors. Plus there's an opening in the rotation with putative fifth starter Dietrich Enns going on the disabled list.

---

Enns went on the disabled list to make room on the 25 man roster for Perkins. Enns missed considerable time earlier in the year with a shoulder issue, but he was quoted as saying that this is in a different area of the shoulder.

Buddy Boshers gave up another homer in the first game and was demoted to Rochester between games, with Nik Turley activated. Bet you forgot Turley was still on the 40-man roster. (I knew only because I've been trying to figure out how to open enough space on the 40 to add all the Rule 5 eligible players I want the Twins to protect this winter.) Turley at least gives them another long man in the bullpen (and a potential starter). If he's still around a week from now, something went very wrong.

---

Robbie Grossman broke his left thumb bumping into Byron Buxton in the outfield. He's out probably three weeks or so; Molitor suggested he will be able to hit before he can throw again.

Mitch Garver, primary position catcher, was called up during the night to take his place on the 25-man roster. Garver has played a few innings in left field for Rochester, but I wouldn't advocate having him platoon in right field with Max Kepler, which was a significant portion of Grossman's playing time.

The move means the Twins don't have an true fourth outfielder. Presumably Zack Granite (left-handed hitter) will be back when rosters expand, if not sooner. Either way, with Grossman out, I'd just as soon see Kepler play even against lefties. He's too young and talented to condemn to a strict platoon role. He's not going to get better against southpaws facing them this infrequently.

---
My commentary on the major league team will be muted at best the next few days; I'm headed to Cedar Rapids for my annual look-see at the Kernels.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The tall tale of Aaron Slegers

Aaron Slegers will,
weather permitting,
be the 32nd pitcher
for the Twins this
season.
Wednesday's rainout scrambled the Twins pitching plans.

The Twins had intended to work Kyle Gibson on Wednesday night and Jose Berrios for today's nooner. But now it's a split doubleheader vs. Cleveland today, and Gibson will start the early game and Aaron Slegers will get the late one. Berrios will pitch Friday against Arizona, with Ervin Santana pushed back to Saturday and Dietrich Enns bounced from that scheduled start.

An extra day off probably won't hurt either Berrios or Santana.

Slegers has an obvious "hook" to his story -- he's 6-feet-10. He won't be the tallest pitcher in team history (Jon Rauch was 6-11), but he'll be the tallest to start a game.

He's a righty, fifth round pick in 2013 out of Indiana University, turns 25 in a couple of weeks, has moved steadily up the ladder and has had a fine season at Triple A (13-4, 3.18 ERA, 130.1 innings with 97 strikeouts and 27 walks.)

The walk and strikeout numbers would appear to support his reputation as a man of modest velocity but top-notch control. His K/9 rate this year -- 6.7 -- is his best since he pitched in Cedar Rapids. The light velocity and low strikeout rate depresses his prospect status (he's never been on a Top 30 list), but the control has kept him a viable prospect nevertheless.

He'll be the 26th man for the doubleheader, so the likelihood is that he'll be returned to Rochester immediately after the game and come back up in September.

A short-notice spot start against a good team in a meaninful game probably isn't the ideal setup for his major league debut, but that's what he gets to work with. Regardless of how he fares tonight, Slegers figures to be a factor to fill out future rotations.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Perkins question

Another shortish start Tuesday night -- Bartolo Colon went just five innings and was fortunate to escape with just three runs allowed -- and another game in which the "nonleverage" half of the Twins bullpen struggled to get outs. Specifically Buddy Boshers, who allowed three runs in one-third of an inning to turn a 3-1 deficit to 6-1.

Boshers, of course, is left-handed; so is Glen Perkins, who was in the Twins dugout Tuesday night after pitching Sunday and Monday for Double A Chattanooga. The back-to-back outings were, in theory, the final marker in his rehab schedule. The 30 days of his rehab assignment ends Saturday.

The former All-Star expects to be activated this week. Derek Falvey indicated last week that he would be. Paul Molitor's pre-game comments on Perkins seemed unenthusiastic about his return: “We’ll contemplate what the best move is moving forward, not only for him, but for our team.”

Bert Blyleven, back in the TV booth. suggested Tuesday that the Twins could just wait until the rosters expand to bring Perkins back. With the rehab period nearly expired, that's not really an option.

The realistic choices are:

  • activate Perkins, which will require somebody to come off the 25-man active roster (there are open spots on the 40) or
  • release him.
Releasing him won't save the team any money, and would be a pretty sour way to treat him at the end of a long recovery process.

For what it's worth -- and that isn't much -- Perkins put up a 6.14 ERA in 7.1 innings over three levels in eight games on the rehab assignment. More important than those results is the caliber of his pitches.

Perkins reportedly touched 93 with his fastball velocity in his final outings, but he apparently sits around 90. That's quite a bit lower than in his glory days, but pretty impressive considering how badly his shoulder was damaged.

Velocity is only part of the equation. Also to be factored in are his command (or lack of it) and the quality of his slider. (Perkins as been a a two-pitch pitcher since moving to the bullpen.) If he has limited command of a diminished fastball and an unreliable breaking ball, he can't help the big league team. If he has a usable slider and can locate the mediocre velocity, he can.

Boshers was optioned out at the start of the season, so he can be optioned out now. It's not like replacing him with Perkins for the last two weeks or so of August will cripple Molitor's bullpen strategies, and it's not like activating Perkins will require that he step back into the (vacant) closer's role, or even be used in game situations. (Twenty of Boshers' 26 appearances have come with the Twins behind, and three of the other six have come with a lead of four or more runs.)

I say activate Perkins. It may not help, but it won't hurt, and it's the right thing to do.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

I'll celebrate Monday's offday by offloading my views on some recent news that I've ignored in the past week:

The Twins moved 1/1 pick Royce Lewis up to low A Cedar Rapids. As it happens, I already have my tickets and reservations for next weekend's annual jaunt to the Twins' Midwest League affiliate. So expect my analysis of young Lewis either here or in the Monday print column, and more likely the latter.

What's noteworthy about this move is that it, at least temporarily, moves Lewis ahead of fellow shortstop prospect Wander Javier. Javier has spent the summer at Elizabethton.

These are perhaps the most important minor leaguers in the organization, certainly the most important below Double A (current level of Stephen Gonsalves, Nick Gordon and Fernando Romero). And they are both, as of now, 18-year-old shortstops.

Obviously, they won't both play short in the majors for the Twins. One, maybe both, will move to another position, or get traded, or even fail utterly. But both should be playing shortstop on an everyday basis until its obvious that something's not working at that position. The Twins need to have Lewis and Javier uncoupled, this year and next, at least.

The front office turnover continues with the dismissal of Wayne Krivsky. Krivsky was Terry Ryan's No. 2 until he left after the 2005 season to be the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He didn't last long there; the Reds' principal owner, previously a minority shareholder in the St. Louis Cardinals, dumped Krivsky in April 2008 for Walt Jocketty, who lost his job in St. Louis for being analytic resistant. (Confused yet?)

One thing I've often wondered about since 2008 was what would have happened in Minnesota had Krivsky not taken the Cincinnati job. Ryan stepped aside after 2007, and Bill Smith, who followed Krivsky as assistant general manager, moved into the top job. Presumably, had Krivsky remained, it would have been his job.

Anyway: Krivsky, after stints with the Mets and Orioles, returned to Minnesota in 2011 as a special assistant to the general manager, a title that can mean just about anything. Under the new regime, he lost the special assistant title and was assigned scouting duties; he got the ax on Thursday.

Baseball America's annual "Best Tools" issue is out.

Highlights for Twins fans:

For the American League, Joe Mauer is No. 1 for strike zone judgment, Byron Buxton No. 1 for fastest baserunner and No. 3 for best defensive outfielder, and Miguel Sano is No. 3 for best power and best infield arm.

No Twins prospects made BA's list for the International League (Triple A).

Southern League (Double A): LaMonte Wade for best strike zone judgment, Nick Gordon as best defensive shortstop, Jake Mauer as best managerial prospect.

Florida State League (High A): Brian Navaretto as best defensive catcher, Tanner English as best defensive outfielder.

Midwest League (Low A): Jermaine Palacios as best defensive shortstop.

(Note: for the majors, BA lists the top three in each category in both leagues; in the minors, just the top name in each league.)


Monday, August 14, 2017

Short starts, sloppy play, two wins

The Twins, especially the overworked bullpen, need today's off day. They have the first-place Cleveland Indians in town the next three days, and if Paul Molitor has been jumpy with his starting pitchers the last four days -- and he has -- he has reason to continue that.

The Twins took two of three from Detroit, a bad team on a death march, over the weekend. But they did so without any quality starts. Kyle Gibson and Jose Berrios were yanked in the fifth and fourth innings on Friday and Saturday respectively, and Ervin Santana staggered through five. Toss in Dietrich Enns' quick hook on Thursday, and that's 46 outs from the starters in the last four games.

Enns' hook was purely the manager's descretion. Pulling the rookie southpaw in the third inning with a four-run lead at literally the first sign of trouble was Molitor managing in mid August like it is late September. I couldn't blame him at the time -- the bullpen was well-rested at that point, and the Twins can't afford to give away games -- but it set the tone for the next three days.

Saturday was frankly awful. Berros put the Twins down 5-0, they came back to take a five-run lead in the seventh, and the bullpen melted down late for a 12-11 loss.

What struck me about that atrocity was that, in a game marked by some outstanding defensive plays, the Twins infield twice failed to get out of innings -- and those failures led to eight runs.

First inning, Jorge Polanco juggled a slow grounder with two outs and two on. He needed a clean exchange between glove and throw, didn't execute it. It was ruled a hit, and no official scorer would rule otherwise, but it's a play I expect major league shortstops to make. A run scored on the play. Berrios walked the next hitter, then served up a grand slam.

Eighth inning, Trevor Hilgenberger gets a double-play grounder with men on first and third, but Miguel Sano unaccountably hesitated to go to to second and only got one out. A run scored, and the next guy homered, and a four-run lead dwindled to one. Again, no error charged, but it was a mental miscue by Sano.

And Sunday's fifth inning, which undid Santana's start, was just awful. Three passed balls and a wild pitch? I was about ready to call on Twitter for Chris Gimenez to be DFA'd in mid inning. Toss in an error by Sano at first base, and two walks and a hit batter by Santana ... ugly, ugly, ugly.

The Twins survived that. The weary bullpen can rest their arms on today's offday.

But the bigger issue remains. The Twins have two weeks to go until the rosters expand; can Molitor's bullpen, even at eight arms, survive that long pitching half the innings? He really needs more than a dozen outs a game from his starters.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Pic of the Week

A spider lies in wait in its web off the first-base dugout
during Tuesday's Astros-Whtie Sox game in Chicago.

A true web gem.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Short starts and a hot bullpen

I worried in Friday's post that Kyle Gibson would have a short start, and indeed he did: 4.2 innings. This was, of course, longer than Dietrich Enns went on Thursday, but it still required a lot of work from the bullpen for the second straight day.

No problem.




I certainly didn't expect that. The bullpen had been struggling to hold leads in the week or so leading up to the deadline, which was part of what led the front office to retreat into sell mode. Brandon Kintzler wasn't innocent in those problems, but it would be silly to see the trade as addition by subtraction.

Not playing the Dodgers helps, obviously. The Twins schedule coming out of the All-Star break was genuinely challenging (with series vs. the Astros and Yankees and a long West Coast road trip that included three games against the Dodgers). The Twins didn't handle that challenge particularly well, and "Falvine" flipped Kintzler and Jaime Garcia for prospects.

Now the schedule is considerably lighter, the Twins have climbed into the second wild card spot, and one wonders if Derek Falvey and Thad Levine would like to undo those deals.


Friday, August 11, 2017

The Enns justifies the means

Dietrich Enns was on a very short leash in his major league debut Thursday night.

The lefty got just seven outs before Paul Molitor reeled him in. Even though the Twins led by four at the time, it was an explicable move; Enns had committed a throwing error, followed by single, single, walk. One could sense that lead slipping away.

There wasn't an immediate roster move; Molitor implied after the game that one would come today. I can't help guessing that the Twins had intended to ship Enns out for a bat (Mitch Garver?), but the short start and resulting heavy use of the front end of the bullpen had them thinking about bringing up a pitcher. Remember, Dillon Gee went four innings a couple days ago, and Alan Busenitz and Ryan Pressly got eight and six outs respectively Thursday. A short Kyle Gibson start tonight in Detroit could create big problems.

And the odds of a five-inning outing (or less) from Gibson are better than the odds of a seven-inning one.

What they do matters; ther current five-game winning streak has put the Twins back in the hunt:





Thursday, August 10, 2017

In the world of Big Sexy

Twins Twitter, always in need of a distraction, got caught up Wednesday in the revelation that Joe Mauer, given the opportunity to put a nickname on the back of his jersey for a weekend, went with "Mauer."

There are a handful of guys on every team who decided not to play along. It's easy for me to imagine Mauer saying to himself when given the paperwork: What name do I want on the back of my jersey? My name. 

In truth, if MLB's marketers could unilaterally assign a nickname to a member of the Twins -- and the whole Players Weekend thing is about selling jerseys -- it wouldn't be Mauer. It would be Bartolo Colon, who will have "Morales" on his Players Weekend jersey rather than the far more lucrative "Big Sexy."

Colon threw seven scoreless innings Wednesday night at Milwaukee, which is pretty lucrative itself. I didn't give this Colon experiment any real chance of success; I was wrong. Five starts into his Twins tenure, the 44-year-old has a 4.02 ERA in 31.1 innings. He's pitching deeper into games on average than Adalberto Mejia, and with a lower ERA.

Meanwhile, the roster games continue. The injured Mejia -- no structural damage found in his MRI, so he'll likely be back in September if not sooner -- was replaced on the roster Wednesday not by Hector Santiago, as I expected, but by Kennys Vargas. And immediately after the game Vargas was returned to Rochester for Dietrich Enns, one of the pitchers acquired from the Yankees last month when the Twins flipped Jaime Garcia.

Enns is to start today against the Brewers, which will make him Twins pitcher No. 31 on the season. Will he stick? My track record at roster prediction this year is pretty poor, but my guess is one-and-done. He'll shuffle back to Rochester after making his major league debut for a fresh arm.

Which won't be Santiago. He started Tuesday for the Redwings and walked six men in 4.1 innings, which isn't going to make the Twins hasten to bring him off his rehab assignment. (It expires in two weeks anyway.)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Win one (game), lose one (pitcher)

Adalberto Mejia left Tuesday's game in the fourth inning with what was described as soreness in the biceps/triceps area. I guess that means the upper arm. He went on the disabled list immediately after the game, with a corresponding move to be announced today.

A good guess is that Hector Santiago's rehab assignment will be cut short, with the veteran lefty returned to the roster. He might either step into the rotation spot vacated by Mejia or into the long relief role now occupied by Dillon Gee, who threw four scoreless innings for the save Tuesday, 55 pitches.

With the Twins now 1.5 games out of a playoff spot, this is a potentially important decision. My thinking, which may not be shared by management, is:


  • If the primary purpose is to try to snag one of the wild card berths, they should put Gee in the rotation.
  • If the primary purpose is to get something in an August waiver deal, they should put Santiago in the rotation.


Paul Molitor sounded in his postgame comments like he was leaning toward the first.

There are other possibilities, including putting both in the rotation and putting Kyle Gibson in the bullpen.

As for Mejia: The hefty lefty is to have an MRI today. (I like the sound of "the hefty lefty" and expect to run that description into the ground.) His ERA is 4.47, which is exactly league average by ERA+. He's been their third-best starter for much of the season, but has seldom worked deep into games. Mejia has pitched 86.2 innings across 18 starts, less than five innings per start, and has finished six innings only four times.

I've had Mejia penciled into the 2018 rotation whenever I look to the near future. We'll see if this injury forces that to change.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RIP, Don Baylor

Whitey Herzog, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals,
congradulates Kent Hrbek in the Twins clubhouse after
Game Seven of the 1987 World Series. Don Baylor is
behind them.
The Associated Press moved nine photos of Don Baylor in the wake of his death Monday. This is the only one from his time with the Twins, and it is easily the worst of the bunch.

I suspect most Twins fans of my age -- meaning old enough that the '87 Twins' implausible World Series title is something we lived through -- have an outsized memory of Baylor's role with that team.

Baylor was 38 when he came to the Twins in a waiver-wire deal just ahead of the postseason roster deadline, in exchange for an A-ball pitcher who never got out of A ball. Baylor played just 20 games for the Twins, 58 at-bats, zero homers.

In the regular season.

Saturday, October 24, 1987, Game Six of the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals lead 5-2 going into the bottom of the fifth, with their supurb veteran lefty John Tudor on the mound. Seated in the Metrodome's Section 232, Row 22, Seat 33 -- nosebleed territory down the left field line -- I'm mentally writing my obit for the Twins.

Kirby Puckett leads off with a single. Gary Gaetti doubles him in. And Don Baylor follows -- if memory serves (and it probably doesn't on that detail) on the first pitch -- with a line drive home run to left. Tie game. Pandenomium. The Twins would take the lead later that inning, and the Cardinals never scored again.

Baylor's blast wasn't the signature moment of that game -- Kent Hrbek's grand slam off lefty reliever Ken Dayley the next inning was -- but it is one moment forever etched behind my eyelids.

I heard Dan Gladden during Monday's game say that Baylor gave the Twins "something we needed -- a big bopper in the middle of the lineup." The 1987 Twins were overflowing with big boppers in the middle of the lineup. Hrbek, Gary Gaetti and Tom Brunansky all topped 30 homers, and Puckett hit 28.

What they didn't have until Baylor arrived was a reliable designated hitter against lefties. Randy Bush, left-handed hitter, was a straight platoon hitter. Roy Smalley and Gene Larkin were switch hitters, but Tom Kelly let the veteran Smalley have just 26 plate appearances all season against southpaws, and the rookie Larkin slugged just .377 from the right side. Baylor filled a niche role -- right-handed DH -- that has disappeared in today's age of 13-man pitching staffs.

Baylor was a lot of things in his remarkable life, on and off the baseball field. He intregrated Stephen F. Austin High School in the capital city of Texas. He was the 1979 American League MVP. He was the first manager of the Colorado Rockies. He had three seasons of 30 or more homers and three seasons of 30 or more steals. For a while he held the career record for getting hit by pitches.

But this fan will always remember that fifth-inning swing and the moment of that ball clearing the plexiglass atop the leftfield wall in the Metrodome.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting some relief

The Twins on Sunday had their first save opp since the Brandon Kintzler trade -- really, the first time in more than a week that the bullpen was asked to protect a lead, as Ervin Santana and Bartolo Colon had complete games in their two wins last week.

The 'pen came through: Trevor Hildenberger threw two scoreless innings, Taylor Rogers got through the eighth and Matt Belisle worked a perfect ninth for his first save since 2012.

Not the way I would prefer, but it worked.

Dick Bremer at least twice, and maybe more, invoked Belisle's "senior status" Sunday as justification for giving him at least a share of the closer role. Bremer may be an imperfect conduit for the mind of Paul Molitor, but my working assumption is that the broadcasters for a team reflect the thinking of management. If Molitor genuinely prefers Belisle late in games because he's got more years in the pension plan than anybody else, that's a bad sign.

The veteran has been getting outs more consistently than anybody else in the bullpen for weeks now; Belisle hasn't been charged with a run, earned or unearned, since June. Rogers, meanwhile, had allowed at least one run in six straight appearances befors Sunday.

At least Hildenberger finally got to pitch with a narrow lead.

---

A couple other notes about the pitching staff:

Dillon Gee isn't, as I assumed when he was called up last week, filling the rotation spot vacated by the Jaime Garcia trade. He made his Twins debut in relief, and Kyle Gibson was returned for Saturday's start. It was SOG -- same old Gibson. He got 16 outs and allowed nine baserunners; this is not a good OBP allowed.

And the return of Glen Perkins to the major league bullpen is presumably imminent. Perkins was in the Twin Cities this weekend and will throw what is described as "an extended bullpen session" today, then report to Double-A Chattanooga to continue his rehab assignment. The plan is for him to pitch three times, including one set of back-to-back days.

His rehab assignment officially expires on the 20th. He apparently expects to be back before then. Even with the bullpen roles unsettled, I wouldn't expect Perkins to step back into the ninth inning immediately. But then, I didn't expect Belisle to get the ball in the ninth inning after the Kintzler deal.


Sunday, August 6, 2017

Pic of the Week

Former Twins infielder Eduardo Nunez, now with the
Red Sox, is covered with powder dumped on him after
he drove in the winning run on Saturday, July 29.

This is the second year in a row that Eduardo Nunez got traded in a deadline deal, which is why he's now with Boston.

He is part of what has turned into a long trade tree for the Twins:

In 1999 the Twins took Travis Bowyer in the 20th round; in 2001 they took pitcher Scott Tyler in the second round (a draft better remembered for the first round pick, Joe Mauer). In December 2005 they swapped those two pitchers to the Marlins for second baseman Luis Castillo, who was the leadoff man for the memorable 2006 Twins.

At the trading deadline in 2007 the Twins moved Castillo to the Mets for two minor leaguers. One didn't make it to the majors, but the other was Drew Butera. Butera was traded at the deadline in 2013 to the Dodgers for a minor league lefty named Miguel Sulbaran,

The next spring, the Twins traded Sulbaran to the Yankees for Nunez. He stuck with the Twins until the deadline last year, when they traded him to the Giants for another minor league lefty -- and that lefty, Adalberto Mejia, is now in the Twins starting rotation.

As for how Nunez has done since the Red Sox got him, let us hear from a member of the Red Sox front office:


Saturday, August 5, 2017

A non-player transaction

The Twins announced a front office move Friday:





The Derek Falvey-Thad Levine regime has treaded relatively lightly on the front office it inherited from former gemeral manager Terry Ryan. Goin was Ryan's top analytics guy, and "Falvine" has been expanding that portion of baseball operations.

I don't know if Goin's departure was a firing, a resignation, a mutual agreement that this isn't working. A few weeks ago my Monday print column was a review of Keith Law's explanation of the current status of sabermetrics, "Smart Baseball," and noted that Law, who was at one point the analytics department of the Toronto Blue Jays, says flatly that he would now be unqualified for that same job.

Goins was once the analytics department of the Twins. It would not be greatly surprising if Falvine want more from that department than Goins is capable of providing. That's not meant as condemnation of Goins; it's an acknowledgement of the demand for increasingly sophisticated analysis and data presentation. It's a different job than it was when Ryan hired Goins, with more being required of it.

It remains to be seen if this is followed by more departures of prominent front office personnel.

Friday, August 4, 2017

30 pitchers and what do you get?

(Answer: A lousy ERA.)

Dillon Gee on Thursday became the 30th man to make a pitch for the Minnesota Twins. He fared well, which can't be said for most of the other 29.

The Twins team ERA is 4.83, which (news flash) is not good. Thirteen of the 30 pitchers have lower ERAs (with the Twins) than that, with Matt Belisle sporting the highest of the better-than-team ERAs (4.64) and Alex Wimmers the lowest of the worse-than-team (4.91).

Eleven "pitchers" -- the quote marks are because this includes Chris Gimenez, the backup catcher who has made six mopup appearances on the mound -- have ERAs of 6.00 or higher. Those 11 pitchers have totalled 24 starts, or more than 22 percent of the team's games -- so basically, one rotation spot has that dismal ERA. (Most of those starts, 18, were made by Kyle Gibson; the rest went to Nik Turley, Felix Jorge and Adam Wilk.)

Another 26 starts have been divvied up among Hector Santiago, Phil Hughes and Bartolo Colon; their ERAs range from 5.63 to 5.87. That's another rotation slot (and change).

Which all adds up to something we already knew. The Twins have shuffled the rotation behind Ervin Santana steadily. Jose Berrios has thrived since his call-up. Adalberto Mejia is flawed but acceptable. The rest have been injured, ineffective or both.


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Buxton and Gee




OK, I'm a couple days late on these moves but ...

1) It's probably no coincidence that the Twins fell out of the race during the two weeks plus that Byron Buxton was out of action. As Baseball Reference figures WAR, Buxton is the second-most valuable Twin and best position player (as of this morning). (He's been moving up the list even without playing.)

That obviously gives a lot of weight to Buxton's defensive prowess, and defense is the part of such evaluations that is most difficult to pinpoint. But the eye test suggests that the Twins may have lost a couple of games during this stretch because Buxton wasn't in center field.

2) Gee presumably takes the rotation spot vacated by the Jaime Garcia trade. The former Mets mainstay was certainly patient; he could have opted out of his minor league deal with the Twins a couple weeks ago. He made five starts in Rochester, 27 innings with a 2.00 ERA, 20 strikeouts and just three walks.

I rather expected Kyle Gibson to return. This may be a piece of evidence that the front office is ready to turn the page on the former first-round pick. Or it may be simply be that they figured that Gee deserved a reward for hanging around. I'm fine with Gee over Gibson.

I will say this, however; having veteran retreads Gee and Bartolo Colon in the rotation while Aaron Slegers rolls along in Triple A is a bit irking.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The post-Kintzler bullpen

Alan Busenitz got the call for the eighth inning Tuesday night and got dinged for a two-run homer that expanded a 1-0 deficit to 3-0.

At least it wasn't one of the usual suspects.

I quit playing fantasy baseball years ago, so I'm not overly wrapped up in saves and the identity of the closer. I'm less concerned about who gets the ninth inning with a three-run lead than with who gets the ball late and close. For the first four months of the Twins season, that's been Brandon Kintzler and Taylor Rogers, with others sprinkled in on a only-as-needed basis.

But Kintzler was traded Monday and Rogers has been charged with at least one run in each of his last five outings, with his ERA expanding from 1.93 after July 22 to 3.79 entering play today. And as I said in the previous post, I don't know now how the Twins will get their outs when the game is late and close.

It's quite possible that Rogers will inherit Kintzler's ninth-inning duties despite his current struggles. If he does, it opens the eight-inning chores, since Paul Molitor is unlikely to try to have Rogers set up and close.

Molitor at one point referred to Tyler Duffey, Rogers and Kintzler as his "triumph trio," the idea being that a parade of those three from the middle innings on was the route to victory.

Duffey has entered three games in the eighth inning, none in the ninth and twice in extra innings, and he's averaging more than an inning per appearance. He's gotten four or more outs in 18 of his 39 appearances. He has been used on consecutive days only twice. All of which describes an old-school middle reliever, and I think the role suits him.

Busenitz and Ryan Pressly have the stereotypical power arms of late-inning relievers. But Pressly has not been effective this year (seven homers in 33.2 innings and an ERA of 6.68) despite an impressive strikeout rate (40 Ks). Busenitz has allowed now three homers in 10.2 major league innings, an even worse home run rate.

Matt Belisle hasn't been charged with a run, earned or unearned, since June. But he has fared poorly when called upon to pitch in back-to-back games, which is pretty much part of the job description for closers and primary set-up men. And he's 37 and a free agent at year's end; giving him a late-inning role doesn't compute for an organization that has signaled that it's looking to future seasons more than the current one.

Of the pitchers in the current bullpen, the one I'd most like to see moved to a late-inning role (closer or primary set-up) is Trevor Hildenberger, the rookie sidearming righty. So far Molitor has largely avoided him in close games; half of his 12 appearances have come with the Twins either trailing by more than four runs or leading by more than four runs, and Molitor has yet not used him to protect a lead of four runs or fewer.

I hope that's about to change.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Good-bye, Kintzler

The Twins traded Brandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals in the final hour before the trading deadline Monday. It was a rational move, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, and I don't.

It really wasn't any more of a "white flag" trade than the Jaime Garcia trade Sunday, but it feels more like it. Garcia's departure still leaves the Twins with their three best starters this year and with the rotation plan for the future intact; with Kintzler gone and Taylor Rogers suddenly addicted to the gopher ball, I have no idea how Molitor is going to find outs late in games.

Molitor's bullpen handling is a topic for other posts and columns; today I mourn Kintzler's departure, which is something I could not have imagined 18 months ago. He was a minor league free agent when I first saw him pitch, in spring training 2016; he leaves as an All-Star.

But ...he's 32, his strikeout rate is bizarrely low for a pitcher of his effectiveness, he's a free agent to be, and it's a good guess that "Falvine" isn't interested in committing to him as the back end of the bullpen in the future. So they cashed him in for a Class A lefty named Tyler Watson.

Watson is 20 and he has put up truly impressive walk and strikeout rates at Low-A Hagerstown (South Atlantic League). He is said to have an advanced changeup and breaking ball but is a bit light on velocity. The Twins presumably think/hope he can add some power to his repertoire as he matures (listed at 6-5, 200 pounds).

All that is well and good, but the return seems too light for what Kintzler means to the current team. We've had four months of playoff aspirations with this team; despite the debacles of the past week, I'm not emotionally ready to relinquish those ambitions.

Monday, July 31, 2017

What you get for $5 million

The Twins traded for Jaime Garcia on Monday. They traded him away on Sunday.

They gave up Huascar Ynoa, a talented teenage right-handed pitcher struggling to find his footing in rookie ball, to get the veteran southpaw. Baseball America ranked Ynoa as the 29th best Twins prospect coming into the season; he probably wasn't going to move up those rankings had he remained.

When they flipped Garcia to the Yankees, they received two pitchers, each much more advanced than Ynoa. Zack Littell is thought to be the better prospect; he's a right-hander who has dominated at two levels this year, High A and Double A. I like pretty much everything in his stat line.




Baseball America rated him No. 24 in the deep Yankees system this spring. MLB Pipeline immediately slotted him at No. 16 in a thinner Twins farm system.

From this spring's Prospect Handbook:

.... Littell's fastball sits 89-91, touching 93, and plays up because of high spin rate and advanced command. His main secondary offering is a true curveball that flashed plus, and he rounds out his three-pitch arsenal with an average to above-average changeup. ...

Littell is not on the 40 man roster, but he will be added; they will not expose him to the Rule 5 draft.

Seth Stohs on Sunday noted the loaded rotation at the Twins Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga:




The Twins also acquired Dietrich Enns, a lefty who is on the 40 and in Triple A and appears to have been injured a for a fair part of the season (just 45 innings in seven starts). He does not show up on anybody's prospect rankings.

BA on Enns:

A 19th-round pick out of Central Michigan in 2012, Enns is a classic touch-and-feel lefthander, although he has shown the ability to push his fastball to 94 mph. Enns’ changeup is probably his best pitch. Enns also throws a curveball, but he mostly relies on location and adding and subtracting to succeed. He profiles best as a lefty specialist.
So, to summarize: The Twins started with Ynoa, talented but raw and risky, and wound up with two more advanced pitchers, at least one of whom is generally regarded as a better prospect.

The difference in the payoff for Garcia: The Twins are paying the bulk of the $4.2 million remaining on Garcia's contract. If you toss in Ynoa's $800,000 signing bonus, the Twins have invested about $5 million in Littell and Enns (and one start of Garcia). That's first-round money.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Pic of the Week

Steve Pearce reacts to his walk-off grand slam in the 10th
inning Thursday in Toronto.

Now that's a bat flip.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment (catcher edition)

The Twins on Friday announced that Anthony Recker cleared waivers and was outrighted to Rochester.

There didn't seem much reason for Recker to be on the 40-man roster, but it's interesting that the Twins opened another spot on the 40. They're down to 38 now after removing Recker and John Ryan Murphy, which would suggest that they are prepared to add before Monday's trade deadline rather than subtract.

That doesn't fit the conventional wisdom, which holds that the combination of the recent slump, the continuing win streaks of the Indians and Royals, and the horrid run differential have turned the Twins from buyers to sellers.

----




The former Twins backstop is now the backup for Tyler Flowers in Atlanta. Flowers is hitting over .300 for the Braves this year; his batting average in two seasons in Atlanta is more than 60 points higher than it was with the White Sox. So the Braves are getting some good hitting from their catchers.

The new park there is apparently playing as a hitter's park, but most of Suzuki's damage has come on the road.

---

Chris Herrmann, another former Twms catcher who is now with the Arizona Diamondbacks, has eight homers himself this year. He's also hitting .165, which is quite the comedown from last year's .284.

The D-backs have three catchers on their active roster, and Herrmann leads the trio in plate appearances with 185. But he's played almost as much in the outfield (12 starts and 142 innings) as behind the plate (17 starts and almost 185 innings). The other catchers are veterans Jeff Mathis and Chris Iannetta, each 34.

This might explain why the Diamondbacks were sufficiently interested in John Ryan Murphy to trade for him. There looks like a pretty good opportunity there for JRM.

Friday, July 28, 2017

A minor league trade

John Ryan Murphy was supposed to be the future at catcher for the Minnesota Twins when then-general manager Terry Ryan traded Aaron Hicks to the Yankees for him. The expectation was that he would open 2016 as the backup to Kurt Suzuki and by midseason claim the No. 1 job, perhaps even allowing the Twins to trade Suzuki at the deadline.

But Murphy simply didn't hit. His batting average was .075 when the Twins shipped him down to Rochester, and while he did a little better when he returned after the rosters expanded, his final average of .146 wasn't going to cut it.

The new regime went in a different direction. Murphy has spent the season in Rochester, hitting about as well (or poorly) as he did in Triple A last season, and was passed on the depth chart by Mitch Garver. On Thursday the Twins traded Murphy to the Arizona Diamondbacks for Gabriel Moya, a 22-year-old lefty reliever at Double A Jackson (Texas League).




Those are some intriguing stats. 0.82 ERA? 68 strikeouts in 43.2 innings?

Despite that imposing strikeout  rate, Moya does not have blazing velocity. He is said to have a deceptive delivery and a plus changeup. He's not on the 40-man roster, and I doubt the organization is eager to push him to the majors from Double-A.

Berardino reports that Murphy is, for the second straight year, leading minor league catchers in pitch framing, as compiled by Baseball Prospectus. That clearly wasn't enough to win over the new front office, which emphasized pitch framing in signing Jason Castro last winter.

At least we now have a reason for the acquisition in the Jaime Garcia trade earlier this week of journeyman catcher Anthony Recker, who takes Murphy's spot as the No. 2 catcher at Rochester.

Not a big trade, obviously, but it does open a spot on the 40-man roster.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

It is never time to panic

Last Friday I went with my wife to gathering of her family, and we were listening to the Twins radio broadcast on our way back to Mankato. Tom Kelly expounded during a booth visit on how the Twins were still hanging around the division lead, just as the 1987 team did, and said something like: The team that goes 8-2 first can take control of this race.

The Kansas City Royals last night won their eighth in a row. The Cleveland Indians won their sixth in a row. Neither has lost since TK made that prediction six days ago, which makes it tough for either to "take control."

The Twins have won once in those six days. Minnesota on Wednesday got swept by a Dodgers team that is now an astounding 71-31. The Twins led two of those three games late, but Taylor Rogers and Brandon Kintzler, their best relievers, couldn't hold the leads.

The 12 games coming out of the All-Star break figured to be a difficult run for the Twins. Three games at Houston; the Astros have the best record in the American League. Three games against the Yankees, and we all know how poorly the Twins have fared against them over the past 15 years or so. And after three games with the Tigers, a trip to the West Coast that started with the Dodgers juggernaut.

I would have been content with 6-6 in that stretch. They went 4-8, and it came as the Indians and Royals got hot. So this morning the Twins are 5.5 games out of first in the AL Central and 4 out of the wild card. Neither Cleveland nor Kansas City have taken command of the division, but the Twins, as the pythagorean theorum suggested would happen, have definitely faded.

The schedule gets a little easier now, with visits to Oakland and San Diego sandwitched around the trading deadline. But the damage to their playoff ambitions has been done.

I wouldn't expect, or want, the Twins to react by shoveling their best prospects into trade packages in search of immediate help. Nor do I want them to react with a fire sale. The Twins are opening their window of contention. It's not impossible for them to bounce back this year, but the outlook for 2018 and beyond is certainly better. Panic -- irrational behavior under stress -- is never useful. Patience and measured reaction is.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

More parallels with the 1987 Twins

A few weeks ago I milked a Monday print column out of the notion that there are parallels between this year's Twins team and the World Series champs of 30 years ago.

As the survivors of the 1987 Twins were feted at Target Field last weekend I thought of a few more pitching parallels. Realizing that we can take this comparison too far:

Adalberto Mejia is this year's Les Straker, only left-handed. Rookie who emerged as the team's third-best starter, not enough innings to qualify for the ERA title (Straker threw 154 in '87, Mejia is one out shy of 75 innings right now). Straker posted an ERA+ of 104 in '87; Mejia's is currently 109.

Kyle Gibson equates to Mike Smithson. Tall right-hander who relies on a sinking fastball. Gibson led the 2015 Twins, who were in the playoff chase until the final weekend, in innings pitched, and Smithson threw more than 250 innings for the 1984 Twins, who were in the playoff chase until the final weekend. Smithson opened the '87 season as the third starter but was in and out of the rotation; the same has been true of Gibson this year.

Bartolo Colon is ... well, there are actually two realistic possibilities. Joe Niekro was, in 1987, a 42-year-old one-pitch pitcher in his 21st year in the majors; the Twins, his seventh club, acquired him in June. Niekro won 221 games in his career, five of them for Minnesota (four in '87, one in '1988). Colon is a 44-year-old one-pitch guy on his 10th club in 20 years and is credited with 235 wins.

The other possible comp is Steve Carlton, more for his status as a legend. Carlton was in 1987 already a 300-game winner. Like Niekro, he was 42; the Twins were his sixth team. Like Colon, he arrived in Minnesota in July. He didn't pitch a lot.

Carlton was a no-doubter Hall of Famer; Niekro, despite a distinguished career, never had a shot at the Hall. Colon is somewhere in the middle, and Niekro is the better 1987 comp if Colon remains in the rotation for the rest of the year, or even through August.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Lots of moves, lots of criticism

The Jaime Garcia trade finally went down Monday. The trade itself is OK, with one curious aspect. The roster ramifications of adding the veteran lefty starter have, in my opinion, been mishandled.

I discussed in the Monday print column why such a trade was a logical move. Two (to three) months of Garcia will cost the Twins Huascar Ynoa, a 19-year-old Dominican signed in 2015 for a $800,000 bonus. He has to this point put up a 5.26 ERA at Elizabethton (25.2 innings), not that Appy League stats matter. Ynoa is a strong armed project who might make it and might not, a genuine lottery ticket. The major league team has a chance at a playoff spot and it desperately needs competence in the back of the rotation. Giving up Ynoa for Garcia is sensible.

Plus it probably saves me from having to learn to spell Huascar Ynoa.

Less obvious is the addition of "Quadruple A" catcher Anthony Recker. He's 33, he has accumulated 630 major league plate appearances over seven seasons, he landed on the 40-man roster via the trade and I don't really see the point. I would not only rather have Chris Gimenez than Recker, I'd rather have Mitch Garver. (At this point, I might rather have Garver than Gimenez, but that's another matter.) The Twins now have five catchers on their 40-man roster, which seems excessive (Jason Castro, Gimenez, Garver, Recker and John Ryan Murphy).

The Twins, as noted in Monday's post, pushed Craig Breslow off both the active roster and the 40-man roster after Sunday's game. I had expected that they would fill the 25-man spot by bringing back Rule 5 pick Justin Haley from the disabled list. Instead they recalled Alan Busenitz and returned Haley to Boston. Nothing against Busenitz, but I don't care for abandoning the Haley project at this point, even though they almost certainly would have to carry his Rule 5 restrictions over to next season.

Dumping Haley does open a second 40-man roster spot, and they needed that to accommodate the addition of Recker -- assuming that they needed to add Recker. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that last winter the Twins exposed catcher Stuart Turner to the Rule 5 draft and lost him to Cincinnati; in a very real sense, this series of roster moves amounted to trading Turner for Recker. Turner hasn't done much for the Reds, but he's still there, and he's about eight years younger than Recker.

Recker, at least for now, is assigned to Rochester. Garcia, obviously, needs to be on the 25-man roster. And the Twins got there by optioning Kyle Gibson to Rochester for the second time this season. They're going to stick with Bartolo Colon in the rotation.

I've little good to say about Gibson's pitching this season. He remains a highly frustrating pitcher. But if it's a binary choice -- I have to start either Gibson or Colon -- I'd go with the guy with the 6.08 ERA on the season (94 innings) over the guy with the 8.00 ERA (72 innings).

Pedro Martinez, who knows more about pitching than I ever will, backs his countryman Colon:




I will say this for Colon: He made his first two starts against some stiff lineups, the Yankees and the Dodgers. Those were not cupcake assignments. Gibson's seven shutout innings in his most recent start came against a much softer lineup (Detroit).

I would go with Gibson over Colon, which is not claiming that either is an optimal choice.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Goodbye, Breslow (and injury updates)

Craig Breslow was designated for assignment after Sunday's game. The move was unsurprising, necessary and, for me at least, a bit depressing. I've always liked Breslow, or more accurately I liked what Breslow represented -- a top-of-the-charts intellect carving out a space for himself in baseball.

Breslow's been through this before. The veteran lefty is in his 12th major league season; he's pitched for seven teams in that time, but this is his second go-around with the Twins, and he had a pair with Boston as well. So he's been passed around like a dollar bill, and he's getting pretty worn -- he hasn't had a sub-4.00 ERA since 2013, when he helped the Red Sox win the World Series.

This might be it for Breslow as a pitcher, although Paul Molitor said he wants to continue his career and the Twins will try to place him with another major league team. He might even accept assignment to Rochester.

---

No corresponding move was announced Sunday, but the expectation is that Justin Haley -- remember him? -- will come off the disabled list. The Rule 5 pick was last seen almost two months ago, and his 30-day rehab assignment is to expire Tuesday.

He's tabbed for long relief, but he is stretched out -- he's been starting for Rochester --  and if there's no trade for a starter and if Bartolo Colon washes out, he might get a chance to start. Those are two "ifs," and I doubt the Twins are eager to go that route.

---

Speaking of 30-day rehab assignments, the clock started ticking during the weekend on Glen Perkins, who appeared in a Gulf Coast League game. He faced three hitters, striking out two and getting a comebacker to the mound.

The GCL being what it is -- the lowest rung on the organizational ladder -- the results are almost meaningless. More important:

  • He was reportedly without pain,
  • His velocity topped out at 90.

The first is good, the second less so. I doubt he can pitch effectively in the majors with a 90 mph fastball; changing speeds has never been his forte, and the lack of a usable changeup is part of what drove him to the bullpen.

The timeline is intriguing. If all goes well (that word if again) the Twins would have to bring him off the disabled list in late August, before the expansion of the active roster. Even if Perkins' return is somehow delayed until September, it will require opening a spot on the 40-man roster. There's a lot of time between now and then, to be sure.

---

No rehab assignment for Bryon Buxton, in part, it seems, because the Twins will be in Los Angeles today through Wednesday and the travel was deemed excessive. Buxton is eligible to come off the DL Tuesday.

Buxton, incidentally, ranks third on the team in WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference, behind Ervin Santana and Miguel Sano but ahead of Max Kepler and Brandon Kintzler.

---

The Twins traded pitcher Nick Tepesch to Toronto on Sunday for "cash considerations." This ranks as an exceedingly minor transaction; he's been on a minor league DL for a while and didn't appear to be in the Twins plans for the rest of the seasons. The "cash considerations" may wind up being dinner at the Winter Meetings.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Pic of the Week

Tom Kelly with his Target Field statute on Friday.
The Twins installed yet another larger-than-life bronze statue at Target Field on Friday, this time honoring Tom Kelly, manager of the 1987 and 1991 World Series champs.

Kelly remains a "special assistant" in the new regime, but he's clearly pared back his activities after his stroke of a couple winters ago, and I doubt that he's as influential with "Falvine" as he was with Terry Ryan.

His influence remains in the organization, however. Paul Molitor, the current occupant of Kelly's former job, played and coached for Kelly. The two best managerial prospects in the Twins organization, Jake Mauer and Doug Mientkiewicz, are also offshoots of Kelly's managerial branch.

The game has changed since Kelly's heyday. It always evolves. The constant challenge for managers is to identify those changes, adjust to them and find how the eternal verities of the sport fit in those changes.

This task, if I may get philosophical, applies to other aspects of life than baseball. Those of us who resist that evolution become grumpy old men. I can identify with that. I suspect that is part of why Kelly retired at an age at which Molitor hadn't started managing.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Or not adding Jamie Garcia

Reports of the Twins trading for Jamie Garcia proved to be greatly exaggerated. The Mexican lefty started Friday night in Los Angeles, allowing three runs in seven innings to the mighty Dodgers and even hitting a grand slam -- for the Braves.

The supposedly imminent deal was on the rocks by Friday morning, with the Braves said to be shopping the 31-year-old around to other clubs. I'm in no position to evaluate what went wrong, but with so many reporters -- national and local -- all reporting the same thing Thursday night, I have to assume there was fire behind that smoke.

And this presumably near-deal suggests that the Twins are indeed in the market for a rental starter, despite Thad Levine's earlier statements that the front office is focused on players who would help in 2018 and beyond. (Garcia is a free agent after this season).

A rental makes sense (properly priced, of course). The Twins need to deepen their rotation; right now the fourth and fifth starters are Kyle Gibson (6.29 ERA coming into tonight's start) and Bartolo Colon (8.18 ERA between Atlanta and Minnesota). News flash: Those ERAs are not good.

Assume for the moment that the Twins pick up a rental starter akin to Garcia. Even with Rental X joining Hector Santiago in free agency after the seasons, and even assuming that the Twins nontender Gibson, the Twins would still enter the offseason with:


  • Three effective 2017 starters (Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios, Adalberto Mejia)
  • Two rehab projects (Phil Hughes, Trevor May)
  • Five good to reasonable prospects currently in Double A or Triple A rotations and thus presumably nearly ready (Fernando Romero, Stephen Gonsalves, Felix Jorge, Kyle Stewart, Aaron Slegers).
They'd probably like to add a veteran arm on a one-year deal to open the season. That would allow them some flexibility with the rehab projects and not be forced to rush a prospect. But that list has 10 2018 starters. They can afford to target a 2017-only addition, especially if that rental doesn't cost them Romero or Gonsalves.



Friday, July 21, 2017

Adding Jamie Garcia

News broke Thursday night that the Twins were about to complete a trade with Atlanta that would bring veteran left-handed starter Jamie Garcia to Minnesota for a prospect.

The deal was not complete when I went to bed, and there was no indication of who the prospect would be. And without knowing who the Twins are giving up, there's no way for me to say yeah or nay.

I will say this: Garcia is a step up for the backend of the rotation. The Twins have started 11 different pitchers so far, and three -- Ervin Santana, Jose Berrios and Adalberto Mejia -- have been good to decent. The rest ... ugh. The best ERA of the other eight belongs to Nick Tepesch, 5.40.

No, Garcia isn't a star and isn't going to be a star. That's neither the point nor the goal. Competence is the goal.

He's 31 and in the last year of his contract, which contradicts Thad Levine's statement a week or so ago that the Twins weren't interested in rentals. I always took that as a preference, not a commitment; there is a price point at which you take a rental even if it doesn't fit your long-term blueprint.

We'll see, soon enough, not only who the Twins traded away but who gets bounced from the rotation. Kyle Gibson or Bartolo Colon?  Perhaps there was indeed some credence to the ESPN report that Colon was considering hanging it up after his start Tuesday deteriorated.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

File this suit

I think I'm afeared the suit will jump me.
(Photo by Linda Vanderwerf)
My wife and I rolled up to Target Field for the Wednesday matinee against the Yankees. I expected to comment today about the game.

And there were plenty of things to comment about, and you can find comments elsewhere on the interwebs about Miguel Sano's homer and Jose Berrios' pitching and Zack Granite's first major league RBIs.

On the basis that it's better to give you something unique, some commentary you can't get anywhere else, an EXCLUSIVE, I instead offer for your contemplation this suit, available at the Majestic Clubhouse Store at Target Field for a mere $599. (ADDENDUM: I am told that the price tag I looked at was just for the suit coat.)

It caught my eye almost as soon as I entered, but my wife missed it until I pointed it out to her. She insisted that she had to get some photos of me with it. Then she told me after we got home to put one of those photos on social media. And the tweet and Facebook posts that resulted got, by my low standards, quite the response, including a threat by co-workers past and present to take up a collection to buy it for me.

I'm not worried; they work for the same employer I do, so they won't be able to come up with the scratch.

(Wandering off on a tangent: My Twitter account, @bboutsider, is mostly baseball; my Facebook account is mostly personal, and I typically decline friend requests that aren't people I have real-life interactions or pasts with. I've had a number of FB requests from people I don't know who I assume are interested because of the blog, and I nix them routinely. I'm just not social enough for social media. Let me assure those of you who fear you're missing out: anything baseball I put on Facebook will be on this blog and/or Twitter first and/or better.)

This suit is, obviously, quite the monstrosity, and I would be inclined to give a wide berth to anybody who actually wore the thing. You've heard of "dress for success"; this is more like "dress to distress." But as my nephew replied on Facebook, anybody who can afford to buy this suit can afford not to care what anybody else thinks.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Gee, Colon? Part 3 (and Hughes and Breslow)

Well, at least he threw strikes.

For four innings, the Bartolo Colon Experiment worked, He carved up the Yankee lineup with mediocre velocity coupled with location and movement, and with some good fielding plays behind him.

Then came the fifth, in which he got no outs, and in which Ryan Pressly did what Ryan Pressly has done pretty consistently all season: give up a homer. The 3-1 lead turned to a 6-3 deficit, and both bullpens put up zeros after that.

Yeah, the Twins had plenty of opportunities to score more runs, but you shouldn't hang your hat on allowing six runs.

Four earned runs in four innings won't do much for Big Sexy's already bloated ERA, but he'll get another start after throwing 53 strikes in 82 pitches. That will come against the Dodgers, who are doing unto the National League what the Astros are doing unto the American. He's not drawing cupcake assignments.

---

Despite the report Monday that Dillon Gee has been waived, he remains on the 40-man roster as of early this morning. The 40-man (and 25-man) roster spot for Colon came from putting Phil Hughes on the 60-day disabled list. He's done for the season with a recurrence of his thoracic outlet syndrome with another round of surgery in his near future. This is a discouraging development for Hughes personally, but doesn't really damage the team's outlook for the rest of the season, as he hasn't been very effective as a reliever.

Kennys Vargas was indeed optioned out, and Craig Breslow was returned to the 25-man roster from the disabled list. He got one out on Tuesday. Replacing Hughes in the 'pen with Breslow doesn't do much for me.

The roster maneuvers left the Twins roster in this condition: The game ended with Chris Gimenez on-deck waiting to pinch-hit for Eddie Rosario against Aroldis Chapman. I'm not really sure what the point of that move would have been ... yeah, Gimenez would have the platoon advantage, but I would too. I'd rather have Rosario against Chapman.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Gee, Colon? Part Two (plus Vargas)

Monday morning's post questioned the logic of giving tonight's start to Bartolo Colon over Dillon Gee.

The Twins doubled down on that decision, right or wrong, after Monday's game:




Cutting Gee fits the timing of his opt-out. The Twins clearly decided he wasn't a solution. Presumably the opt-out forced this resolution to his status.

That gets Colon on the 40-man roster. To get him on the 25-man active roster required another move:




This is the second time in two weeks they've optioned Vargas out. The first try ended early when Joe Mauer went on the DL. But Mauer returned Friday, and on Sunday Vargas's defensive frailities -- or at least one of them -- showed when the Astros twice ran on him.

Normally the quality of a first baseman's arm is immaterial. Steve Garvey, to name one prominent example, couldn't throw and wouldn't throw if he could possibly avoid it, but he was an outstanding defensive first baseman. I don't know that I've ever seen a first baseman's arm disregarded so throughly as was Vargas' on Sunday.

The interesting thing is that Vargas shows up pretty well in the publicly available defensive metrics. Both versions of runs saved shown on Baseball Reference have him, on a per-inning basis, as outperforming Joe Mauer.

Small sample size, to be sure. Vargas is NOT better with the glove than Mauer. And that Paul Molitor chose to pinch-hit Eduardo Escobar for him Monday night should say something about how his bat is playing.


Monday, July 17, 2017

Gee, Colon? A tale of two Mets refugees

The Twins signed Dillon Gee to a minor league deal with an opt-out on June 22. They brought him to the majors two days later and had him sit in the bullpen waiting for a long relief outing that never came, then optioned him to Rochester. The major league stint did not wipe out the opt-out.

Gee, who has made 125 major league starts, most of them with the Mets, has made three starts for Rochester, 15 innings in which he has not allowed a run. While an ERA of 0.00 is obviously impressive, his K/9 -- 4.8 -- is not. His opt-out window has arrived, but there is no indication that he has exercised it. He started Saturday for Rochester; his turn would come up Thursday.

While Gee has been in Rochester, the Twins signed the well-traveled Bartolo Colon to a minor-league deal. Gee's ex-Mets rotation mate made one start for Rochester in which he didn't get through the fourth inning.

Colon will nevertheless start Tuesday for the major league team. (The corresponding moves, to get Colon on the 40-man roster and onto the 25-man roster, have not been announced and probably won't be until Tuesday.)

Now ... I am obviously guilty here of scouting the stat line. I haven't seen either man pitch, and I haven't access to the spin-rate data and other metrics the front office has. There may well be reason for them to prefer Colon to Gee in their search for a fifth starter.

That reason is not apparent.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Pics of the week

Yadier Molina of the St. Louis Cardinals donned a special
gold chest protector

Josh Harrison of the Pittsburgh Pirates sported a pair
of deliberately mismatched All-Star socks.

Bruce Harper of the Washington Nationals wore spikes
that paid tribute to Jose Fernandez, the star pitcher of the
Miami Marlins who died last year in a boating accident.

A few fashion statements from the All-Star Game.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Contemplating Jorge Polanco

There isn't a lot of reason to praise Jose Berrios' pitching Friday night in Houston -- more than half his pitches missed the strike zone -- but the fact remains that five of the seven runs he allowed were unearned because of an error by Jorge Polanco.

Polanco's defense has deteriorated sharply since this post in late May, which quotes the founder of Baseball Info Systems as saying that Polanco had saved five runs with his defense to that point. Well, that same metric, available on Baseball Reference, now shows Polanco as having given back four of those five runs -- and as of this writing, that's not updated with Thursday's game.

My expectations for Polanco's defense at shortstop were not high coming into the season. I would have been pleased on Opening Day with league-average defense from him, and to this point that's close to what the Twins have received. But I also expected him to be a much more productive hitter than he's been. His OPS, .591, is even worse than that of Byron Buxton (.603), and he's 3-for-35 so far this month.

Deteriorating fielding, deteriorating hitting. That's not a good combination, especially with two other shortstops, Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza, on the roster.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Bartolo Colon made what was presumably his sole minor-league tune-up start Thursday night for Rochester, the Twins' Triple A affiliate. His stat line was not particularly encouraging: 3.2 innings, 4 hits, 4 runs, 2 walks, 5 strikeouts. He threw 76 pitches.

Those determined to find a reason to believe can latch onto the strikeouts. I'm inclined to pay more attention to the walks, because Colon's success in recent years was based largely on the fact that he almost never walked anybody. His command was impeccable until this season. This year it has been emphatically peccable.

Still, the Twins roster lacks a fifth starter, and somebody's going to get called up to start Tuesday against the Yankees. Colon is lined up for that assignment. I expect him to get that start, and I expect him to get shelled.

I would also expect Felix Jorge to get shelled if he gets the start. It's not like the Twins are sitting on Clayton Kershaw. They have no good answers available.

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The Chicago White Sox picked up another prospect haul Thursday by trading lefty-starter Jose Quintana to their North Side neighbors. The Sox got four minor leaguers, including current Baseball America coverboy Eloy Jimenez and pitcher Dylan Cease.

Quintana is a quality pitcher, and he's under team control for several more seasons; that's the kind of asset any organization would value, and I'm sure the Twins would have loved to land him. But they do not have any prospects as highly regarded as Jimenez, a power-hitting outfielder, and their best pitching prospects are roughly comparable to Cease. 

The Sox farm system is getting pretty stocked up with the returns of the Adam Eaton, Chris Sale and Quintana trades. If their player development system gets this right, they figure to be mighty tough around 2020.

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Baseball's back today from the All-Star break, and hooray for that.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Nick Gordon vs. Royce Lewis vs. Wander Javier

Away back last Sunday, Nick Gordon, the Twins' sole representative in the Futures Game, started at shortstop and hit leadoff for Team USA. He went 1-for-3 with a run scored.

There's a debate over whether Gordon, who is having what appears to be a typical Gordon season at Chatanooga, is still the organization's top prospect. Royce Lewis, taken 1/1 by the Twins about a month ago, outranks him in the estimate of some. But Gordon is considerably closer to the majors.

I'm not ready to take a position on this, partly because it's unclear to me what position either will take in the majors when their times come. I'd vote for the one who plays shortstop in the majors, and there is no consensus that either will stick at shortstop.

Gordon is hitting .298/.366/.448 in Double A; he's hit six homers, which is more as he hit in his previous three minor league seasons combined. His slugging percentage is some 70 points higher this year. That might represent growth; it might be more about the difficulty of hitting in Hammond Stadium in particular and the Florida State League in general. It's a pitcher's league.

Lewis is hitting .340/.426/.566 for the Twins team in the Gulf Coast League. Statistics in the GCL (or even the Appy League, the next rung up the ladder) are meaningless for evaluative purposes; he could hit .140 there and it wouldn't mean anything. He's an 18-year-old getting his feet wet.

Then there's Wander Javier, also 18, a Dominican signing from two years ago who is playing short this summer for Elizabethton in the Appy League. Javier is hitting .286/.362/.429 in E-Town. The Twins gave him a bigger bonus than they gave Miguel Sano, so even though Javier hasn't played two dozen professional games yet, he's obviously somebody to keep an eye on.

And one of the things to watch is what happens when/if Lewis is assigned to the same level as Javier, which might come fairly quickly. Only one can play shortstop at a time.

Too many shortstop prospects is a better problem than no shortstop prospects.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Twins at the All-Star game

All three Twins at the All-Star Game played, and it was a mixed bag of results:


  • Miguel Sano blooped an RBI single to right in his only at-bat;
  • Brandon Kintzler had a Brandon Kintzler inning -- three batters, three ground balls;
  • Ervin Santana allowed the only National League run, a homer by Yadier Molina.


“I was a fan that got to pitch in the game, so I appreciate that.”
-- Brandon Kintzler
 
 Nicely said. Now two days off and back to the season.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The Twins at the break

The Twins are 45-43, 2.5 games behind Cleveland in the American League Central. This you can tell from a glance at the standings.

But the innards of that record are ... interesting.

For example: The Twins are 10-5 in games decided by one run. They are 12-20 in games decided by five or more runs.

This is NOT typical of good teams. The better the team, the more often they win in blowouts, and as a rule they have a lesser record in one-run games. Truly good teams turn the game they imight win close into an easy win and the game they might get blown out in into a tight contest.

For example: The Los Angeles Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball, are 12-10 in one-run games, but 21-4 in blowouts.

The Twins have been outscored on the season by 60 runs. The Pythagorean Theorum says their record should be 38-50. That's not the worst pythagorean figure in the AL, but it's close, and that suggests that the real record is something of a mirage.

Drilling a bit deeper:

Hitting: The average American League team has scored 4.71 runs per game. The Twins are averaging 4.58, ninth of the 15 teams. They are next to last in slugging percentage but seventh in on-base percentage, which is helped by the second-highest walk total in the league.

Minnesota also has the youngest lineup in the league (according to Baseball Reference, which weights the ages by at-bats and games played). As a general rule, hitters walk more as they age, which makes the Twins' high walk totals a bit of an oddity.

Pitching: The Twins (no surprise) have the second worst ERA in the league (4.89). They are one spot better in runs allowed per game (5.26) because they allow relatively few unearned runs. They have surrendered 135 homers, second-most in the AL, and they remain, as they have for years, dead last in the league in strikeouts.

Defensive metrics: The Twins currently have a DER -- Defensive Efficiency Rating -- of .694, meaning that they have turned 69.4 percent of balls in play into outs. This is fourth in the AL, and closer to seventh than to third. Their status in this metric has slipped over the past month or so.

The Twins rank better in some other metrics. They're second in the league in runs saved as estimated by the Total Zone method and third in runs saved as reckoned by Baseball Info Systems' methodology.




Monday, July 10, 2017

Contemplatng Tyler Duffey

It was the kind of situation Tyler Duffey had excelled at for most of this season: The starting pitcher (in this case Kyle Gibson) was struggling in the fifth inning, but the Twins were still in the game, down two with a man on and no outs. The obvious notion was for Duffey to work the fifth and sixth innings and keep the Twins in the game. This, as I have repeatedly observed, is Duffey's role on the staff.

But Duffey did not excel Sunday. Single, groundout, single, double. goundout,. fly out. Not only did the inherited runner score, but so did two more runs charged to Duffey, and the Twins were down five.

Duffey's ERA, as low as 2.10 on May 28,  is now 4.81. Sunday's appearance was the fifth straight in which he allowed at least two baserunners.

My sense is that Paul Molitor in the past month or so has tried to expand Duffey's role, to not only include the middle-relief multiple inning assignment but to be the primary right-handed setup guy. He has worked back-to-back days four times now this season, the first on May 28, so the no-rest outings have gome in this rough stretch.

This is the problem with a thin bullpen, that the reliable guys get used so much that they break. Perhaps four days off will revive Duffey. But even if Duffey bounces back, the Twins still need a righty Molitor can use in the seventh or eighth innings so Duffey can settle back into that fifth and sixth inning role.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Pic of the Week


 Derek Dietrich of the Miami Marlins
jokes around with an oversized glove borrowed from
Marlins fan Tony Voda (right)
during the first inning of their game on July 4 in St. Louis.
Too big a mitt to be legally used, but cause for a double-take anyway.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Friday was quite the busy day in Twinsdom. Let's get chronologic:

* Joe Mauer went on the disabled list with Kennys Vargas recalled. The Twins demoted Vargas on Monday to reactivate Ehire Adrianza. Mauer injured his back on Tuesday, and the Twins dawdled a couple of days before pulling the trigger, presumably (as I noted Thursday) because Vargas hasn't given them a lot of reason to get excited about playing him.

So naturally Vargas went 3-for-4 with a double and a couple RBIs.

*Brandon Kintzler was one of a handful of replacement All-Stars named Friday, and good for him. That gives the Twins three members of the AL squad: Miguel Sano, Ervin Santana and Kintzler.

Kintzler currently leads the American League in saves, which

  • is meaningless as an evaluative stat and
  • made his selection almost inevitable.

* The Twins signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal.

Colon became an unlikely cult hero in his three years with the Mets; he's old (44), fat (listed at 285 pounds) and amusingly inept at the plate. But the Braves released him after he put up an 8.18 ERA in 13 starts.




I'm not optimistic about Colon. But I'm not optimistic about the rotation "fixes" on hand either. Derek Falvey told the press corps during the game that Colon thinks he can correct himself and pitch beyond this season, and noted (accurately) that Colon has reinvented himself as a pitcher a few times. So we'll see; the Twins have a minimal investment in "Big Sexy," so all they have to lose are a couple of games.

* Felix Jorge started, got shelled, got demoted (that last, as least, as predicted here).

Roy Smalley drew a Johan Santana comp to Jorge early in the game on FSN, which is ridiculous. Santana is left-handed and threw harder than Jorge. A more realistic comp, at least in terms of what kind of pitcher Jorge might become, is Brad Radke -- a fastball that sits around 90, a good change-up, top-notch command of both pitches.

And, hey, if Jorge becomes Radke, that's marvelous. He's not there yet. He has no chance of becoming Santana. And the signing of Colon, plus the presence in Rochester of Dillon Gee (opt-out date July 15), plus Friday's failed outing  -- that all adds up to he's not getting another shot at the majors anytime soon. Jorge is returning to Chattanooga, and I would expect to see him back in September but not before.

* Outfielder Zack Granite was recalled. He's hitting .360 in Rochester, which is good. He's drawn about as many walks in Rochester as Eddie Rosario has in Minnesota, which is less good, and has far less power.

The gaudy batting average not withstanding, Granite is a fringe prospect, a protoypical fourth outfielder -- left-handed contact hitter, fast enough to play center, not enough pop to be a regular. And as a lefty bat, he's not a particularly good fit as a backup in an outfield with Rosario and Max Kepler among the regulars.

Granite is, at best, Ben Revere with a better arm.

My prediction: He won't be up long.

*Byron Buxton scored from first base on a single to center. Wowzers.

Anybody who thinks Granite should get Buck's playing time is deluded. Baseball Reference, at this writing, has Buxton as the third-most valuable player on the 2017 Twins with 1.8 WAR, behind Ervin Santana and Kepler and fractionally ahead of Sano.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Mauer's (not) back

I got one right, more or less: Alan Busenitz, called up to fill Hector Santiago's roster spot, was sent back to Rochester after watching two games from the bullpen to activate Felix Jorge, who will start today's game.

I expect that Jorge will be demoted again immediately after the game. The Twins figure to fill out the weekend with Aldaberto Mejia and Kyle Gibson, then have four days off, then will likely resume with Jose Berrios, Ervin Santana, Mejia and Gibson before needing the fifth starter again. That's 10 days; that's enough to reactivate Santiago if he's ready, or recall Jorge, or bring back Dillon Gee, or whatever.

It won't be Busenitz, but the Twins can get a useable player -- a bullpen arm or a position player -- into that roster spot for six games before they need a starting pitcher there. That's the kind of roster game the new regime has been rather adept at playing.

They've been a great deal less agggressive with Joe Mauer's roster status. Mauer sat out Wednesday and Thursday after injuring his back running the bases on Tuesday, and he remains on the active roster.




One issue may be: Who would they activate to take his place? They could bring back Kennys Vargas early if they DL Mauer, but they sent Vargas out because he's not hitting. Byung Ho Park has finally gotten his bat going at Rochester, but he's not on the 40-man roster. They could bring up an outfielder (hello, Zack Granite) and move Max Kepler to first base, but I doubt they're eager to take Kepler out of right field.